Main Menu

40. What Are the Dietary Guidelines for Americans?

By the 1970s, research had shown that Americans’ overconsumption of foods rich in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium was increasing their risk for chronic diseases, such as heart disease and stroke. In 1977, the U.S. government released the Dietary Goals for Americans, which were designed to improve the nutritional quality of Americans’ diets and to try to reduce the incidence of over nutrition and its associated health problems.

Amid controversy over the scientific validity of the goals, the government asked scientists to lend credence to the goals and provide dietary guidance. Their work culminated in the 1980 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which emphasized eating a variety of foods to obtain a nutritionally well-balanced daily diet. Since 1990, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) have been mandated by law to update the guidelines every five years.

The guidelines serve as one governmental voice to shape all federally funded nutrition programs in areas such as research and labeling, and to educate and guide consumers about healthy diet and lifestyle choices.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 reflect the most current nutrition and physical activity recommendations based on science for good health. They are designed to help individuals aged 2 and over improve the quality and content of their diet in order to lower their risk of chronic diseases and conditions, such as high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol levels, diabetes mellitus, heart disease, certain cancers, and osteoporosis.

These recent guidelines are different from previous reports, as they address the obesity epidemic that is occurring among Americans. The feature box “The Dietary Guidelines for Americans at a Glance” provides an overview of the current guidelines, along with helpful dietary and lifestyle recommendations. The final tool provided by the government to help you eat healthfully is a food guidance system called MyPyramid.

The Take-Home Message:

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 provide dietary and lifestyle advice to individuals over the age of 2.The goal of the guidelines is to help individuals maintain good health and prevent chronic diseases.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans at a Glance

Whereas past versions of these dietary guidelines were intended for healthy Americans aged 2 and older, this edition was released during a time when a poor diet and the sedentary habits of Americans have become associated with chronic poor health and reduced longevity. The science-based Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 are intended for those who are 2 years of age and older, including those who may also be at risk for chronic diseases. The following is a short overview of the recommendations.

The complete guidelines and more information are available at

There are two overarching concepts in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010:

1. Maintain calorie balance over time to achieve and sustain a healthy weight.

The Health Concern in a Nutshell: Many Americans are in calorie imbalance, consuming more calories than they are expending daily.

It’s recommended that you: Eat a well-balanced, calorie-appropriate diet, coupled with regular physical activity, to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.

2. Consume more nutrient-rich foods and beverages

The Health Concern in a Nutshell: Many Americans are consuming too much sodium and too many calories from solid fats (saturated and trans-fats), as well as added sugars and refined grains, such as those in cakes and cookies. At the same time, they are not consuming enough fiber, vitamin D, calcium, and potassium.

It’s recommended that you: Routinely follow a healthy, well-balanced, plant based eating pattern rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. You should consume adequate amounts of lean dairy and protein-rich foods (lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, and dried peas), along with some heart-healthy unsaturated fats. This eating pattern will help you meet nutrient needs without exceeding daily calorie needs.

There are key recommendations provided in the Dietary Guidelines to help you do the above:

Balance Calories to Manage Weight

Prevent and/or reduce becoming overweight and/or obese through improved eating and physical activity behaviors.

Control total calorie intake to manage body weight. For those overweight or obese, this means consuming fewer calories from foods and beverages.

Increase physical activity and reduce the time spent in sedentary behaviors.

Maintain appropriate calorie balance during each stage of life-childhood, adolescence, adulthood, pregnancy and breast-feeding, and older ages.

Foods Components to Reduce

Daily sodium intake should be less than 2,300 milligrams (mg).

Intake should be further reduced to 1,500 mg among people who are 51 and older, and those of any age who are African-American or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease. This 1,500-mg recommendation applies to about half of the U.S. population.

Consume less than 10 percent of your daily calories from saturated fatty acids by replacing them with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Consume less than 300 mg of dietary cholesterol daily.

Keep trans fatty acid as low as possible by limiting foods that contain synthetic sources of trans fats, such as partially hydrogenated oils, and by limiting other solid fats.

Reduce the calories from solid fats and added sugars.

Limit the consumption of foods that contain refined grains, and especially of refined-grain foods that contain solid fats, added sugars, and sodium.

Consume alcohol in moderation, if at all-up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men-and only if you are an adult of legal drinking age.

Foods and Nutrients to Increase

In order to consume a well-balanced, healthy eating pattern that meets your daily calorie needs:

Increase your vegetable and fruit intake.

Eat a variety of vegetables, especially dark-green and red and orange vegetables and beans and peas.

Consume at least half of all your grain choices as whole grains.

Increase the intake of fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products such as milk, yogurt, cheese, or fortified soy beverages (soy milk).

Choose a variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meat and poultry, eggs, beans and peas, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds.

Increase the amount and variety of seafood consumed by choosing seafood in place of some meat and poultry.

Replace protein foods higher in solid fats with choices lower in these solid fats and calories.

Use oils to replace solid fats where possible.

Choose foods that provide more potassium, dietary fiber, calcium, and vitamin

These foods include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and milk and milk products.

Note: There are recommendations for specific groups such as women capable of being pregnant, pregnant and breast-feeding women, and individuals who are 50 years of age and older.

Build Healthy Eating Patterns

 Select an eating pattern that meets nutrient needs over time at an appropriate calorie level.

Account for all foods and beverages consumed and assess how they fit within a healthy eating pattern.

Follow food safety recommendations when preparing and eating foods to reduce the risk of food borne illness.

*Solid fats are not liquid at room temperature; these contain more saturated and trans fatty acids. Solid fats include: butter, meat fat, coconut and palm oils, shortening, and margarine.

Common food sources of solid fats include: full-fat cheese, whole milk, fatty cuts of meat, poultry skin, and many baked goods.

There are many circumstances in which individuals should avoid alcohol consumption entirely.


Dietary Guidelines for Americans Guidelines published every five years that provide dietary and lifestyle advice to healthy individuals over the age of 2 to maintain good health and prevent chronic diseases.

 Next: What is the MyPyramid Food Guidance System?



ar bg ca zh-chs zh-cht cs da nl en et fi fr de el ht he hi hu id it ja ko lv lt no pl pt ro ru sk sl es sv th tr uk

Verse of the Day

Global Map